Friday, June 29, 2007

Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art June 23 - September 9, 2007

Image courtesy of Paul Kuhn Gallery, Calgary: Mark Mullin, Absorption Rates II, 2007.

As it goes again, the structure of the biennial is far more interesting than the art represented, which when summarized, does not consistently capture the implied themes of "Utopia or Disaster," but maybe in the larger context, frames how art is viewed in Alberta.
There are strong works and artists represented: Mark Mullin of Calgary grounds his colour texture chaos with lines of solid circular tones, creating works that are visually stimulating in a very modern colour palette, and are far more impressive in person than in print; Jonathan Kaiser continues his estranging installations of suburban isolation, a very young artist with only a small handful of alternative group shows behind him.
There are also less strong works such as the multicoloured panel of rave photography or the computer/time counter that maybe belongs more as novelty than function in the lobby of a science centre than in the middle of any art biennial.
Heralded as an institutional showcase for Alberta artists, the AGA must be more clear as to what, who, and why they are curating these shows. To use the model of a biennial, is somewhat both precocious for Alberta, and in many ways, archaic and typical of Alberta. If the Alberta art scene is to gain national attention, arguably the raison d'etre of the biennial, and to market itself successfully, we need to first identify ourselves before we try to sell ourselves.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

First Impressions: The Works Art & Design Festival, June 22 - July 4, 2007

On Friday at noon, the anticipated Ken Rinaldo kinetic robotic sculpture was suffering from technical difficulties. Only the 2D Dee Fontain wearable art pieces were up and the other interactive art shows on Churchill Square were not yet ready to go. Crossing the square, one could see Ted Kerr's pieces hanging across the 3 Banana's cafe, though we had only hoped to see the pieces larger, and higher, giving them more presence akin to their subject matter. Steered towards the library glass exhibition, it was surprisingly the upstairs exhibit by Leila Armstrong that held my attention. Kitschy and filled with just enough subtext, the dioramas surpassed the poorly laid out floor plan of the downstairs glass show. Although impressive in skill and technique, there was no overall flow to the sprawling show. It was back to the office and I had visited the festival as one of the many downtown business lunch crowds that only has 50 minutes to grab a bite and walk within a 5km radius.

Later that day at 5pm, a group of arts-related individuals, with no time and distance restrictions, had gathered to "do the works". Hitting up the square to see the now functioning Rinaldo and to be slightly disappointed. Navigating through the gauntlet of robotic sensory arms, the projection shot askew elsewhere, taking you away and out of the space and accompanied by a few 2D images that did not relate very well to the rest of the exhibition.
Other spots visited were the two library shows and Kerr again, Manulife Place with Val Nelson's impressions, Ric Kokotovich's work in Scotia Place and the "Out is In Project" inside City Hall. The group had scattered on the square to freely peruse the craft and food tents--some of which still remained closed at 6pm.

Although none of the art pieces made any lasting impressions on any members of the group, we regardless sat in the beer garden listening to free music, drinking beer and watching the Churchill square regulars boogey up the dance floor. Once again, I am confused as to what the festival presents in theory and in practice, as I felt I had experienced neither. A ruddy carnivalesque atmosphere on the square, another cheeky ad campaign that this time appears to alienate and offend, along with semi-alternative spaces for art, I must propose the ever-remaining question: Who is the festival trying to reach?

Cesar Alvarez and Peter Hide

It is a plesant coincidence that in the same week MFA sculptor student Cesar Alvarez and local sculptor legend Peter Hide both open their shows at FAB (outside sculpture garden) and Scott Gallery, respectively.

Alvarez, whose work on first impressions alone, echos the lineage of Hide, Anthony Caro, and David Smith. Although even within this lineage there is already fractions and tangents in style and theory, Alvarez appears to take up where Hide left off and returns to the simplicity of the 'abstract' form. The shapes, the forms, seemingly present a sense of being, an ontological presence that balances the urge and the resistance to shape an existing form.

Clearly the skill level differs; there is no question that Hide is the senior weilding his scraps and pieces into a form wholly of his own creation. Also, Hide's current pieces were on the smaller scale, and therefore changes their overall density and impact; but looking at both's approach to metal, where one is just beginning and the other just entering his golden years, one can only wonder how each relates to their respective craft.

This is not just 3D sketching as some believe modernist sculptures to be; and to the passerby, the large forms standing on Edmonton's street corners, parks, and LRT station platforms can appear indistinguishable from one to the next. But looking closer, sandwiched between the impressions left by encountering Alvarez and Hide, there seems to always be a power over the object; and it is this overall presentation of this domination, this ever-present presence, that makes them at odds with the fleeting transience of forgettable public encounters.

Harcourt House 19th Membership Show June 21 - July 21, 2007

Always a mix, the mostly mid-career to established artists of Harcourt House displayed their work salon style for their annual 'show and sale' members exhibition during this past solstice and front lawn bbq, which was excellent with good deals and thick slabs of sliced cheese.
Inside and upstairs, staggered over each other throughout all four rooms, what finally became crystal clear was the role of Harcourt House's place in the community. Perhaps jumbled with the wholesome bbq crowd downstairs, the handful of respected names on the wall upstairs, and the bartender crustily accusing a group of ladies downstairs as the "Latitude crowd" (I'm sure no offense was meant towards the ladies or Latitude 53, but the impression nevertheless lasted), never had it become so obvous that Harcourt House was of course the artist-run centre that leans towards the more traditional and established side, holding an impressive rolodex of artists as members as well as a site for continuing arts education.
The role and voice for each artist run centre and gallery often gets confused, or forgotten, as the artists represented and gallery itself goes through a cycle. Harcourt's current mandate declares itself to be a destination for contemporary visual art, which in theory clumps it along every other gallery in the city, but with this presentation of its members show, Harcourt reveals it is perhaps the premiere destination for local contemporary visual art.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Keep it a secret (Make it Not Suck II), Jasper Ave and 108 St. June 17, 2007

Back at it again, the city's economic and construction boom received a therapeutic art treatment this Father's Day. Although many of the same artists returned with very simliar works, there was a sense that more work was put into the pieces this time around--and this has both postiive and negative connotations.

Although better constructed and more organized this second go-around, the carefree sprawl of spontaneity is much more subdued. Some pieces like spider man just shows last minute laziness, while others, the fabric covered panel or the text-based poetic ramblings of an urban dweller present some genuine artistry in this repeat task.

Although non-commisioned public art pieces go up all over the world in various forms and formats, one wishes to see this type of large scale project in less high profile areas, like industrial parks and suburbia, where these guerila urban "beautification" exercises would really benefit and challenge its environment.

Photo credit: Amy Fung, 2007

Candy Mountain, Latitude 53, June 14 - July 14, 2007

Photograph by: Marcus Miller, 2007

Plucking inspiration from Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock's folk ballad "Big Rock Candy Mountain," a song often described as an utopian vision for hobos from the '20s, Mindy Yan Miller and Montreal-based artists Katherine Bodmer and Susie Major have come together collectively in each of their own discplines to render the age old idea of "turning nothing into something." Although the song tends to focus more on the phantasmagoric illusions of the hobo lifestyle (cigarette trees, gin lakes, dogs with rubber teeth, jail bars made out of tin, etc.) the Candy Mountain exhibition peers into the everyday banality around us and infuses a light, wonderous glow.
Yan Miller's installation sculpture using emptied coca cola cans, her medium of choice, predominantly took up the majority of the interactive space. Created on site, the final touch occured on opening night as guests were invited to open, pour, and add cans of cola onto the sculpture and actively take part in the root of this project: the jubilant, the cathartic; the gross act of excess. Combined with mountains of candy during opening night, the urge to crush the pile of sculpted cans, the child-like impulse to destroy, was severly palpable.

Image: Susie Major, 2007

Major's series of drawings on grid paper reminds us of the physical process of procrastination, but also of the sheer intensive labour behind any act of exploration. Following the shades and forms from square to square, a navigation emerges and to look for a destination is to miss the point.
Bodmer names each of her photographs after real mountains, imposing a literary frame of entries from several mountain explortaions onto photographs of parking lot snow mountains, those mounds of excess snow piles often spotted during the winter months of urban ennui. Relating the crevices and shadows, and reminding us of existing mountains that she fondly remembers, the question that emerges is: what makes one exploration a more legitimate experience than another? The entries from trips up Mer de Glace or the Matterhorn (in which she subverisely includes the height of each mountain with each title) are utopic, awe-filled descriptions of how one must face the glory of the mountain. Peversely, in these urban shots, grey skies stretching behind dirty grit filled mounds against graffiti walls and chain link fences, Bodmer sustains that same awe of respect and intrigue.

Image: Katherine Bodmer, 2007

The show as a whole presented three very different artists with very different ideas, held together loosely; but respectively as individuals, each artist inevitably complimented the others in methods beyond themes and methods, pushing each other's works forward through like-minded perspectives of the world and like-minded perspectives of their roles as artists in this world.

Artists: Katherine Bodmer, Susie Major, Mindy Yan Miller

Friday, June 8, 2007

Blair Brennan's Sacra Pravata, SNAP, June 7 - July 21, 2007

Image courtesy of Blair Brennan, 2007

The steady visual synocpations of drawings, both fast sketches and time-consuming collages, lined wall to wall, 8X10's squarely bricked next to 8X10's, non-identifable figures and forms stacked and sprawled next to their kin, their opposites, well-lit, collected, but each individually identifiable, wheels you round and round again in SNAP's interior gallery.

Blair Brennan, who creates astoundingly clean and fresh ideas from old scraps and findings, has now amassed the every-day exercise of drawing (the act of transfering thoughts and assembling) and purges his ritualistic result with bravada. With close to 600 pieces on display, all of which will be auctioned off on the last day of the exhibit as a fundraiser, the experience Brennan creates can only be described as humbling. As the pieces in question are from the everyday, it is the mass accumulation and non-repetition of his ever-surprising expressions that both astounds and inspires the viewer.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

ArtsHab in the Core, June 7 - July 4, 2007

As the impending (and seemingly ongoing) end for ArtsHab continues, residents and friends have gathered for a group exhibit focused on the impact our city's economic boom has had on the visual arts community. That message isn't quite clear as you peer into each individual piece, many of which are older works or the artists' personal favorites; what is clear is that as a whole, these artists have been able to live and produce work within a stable environment, both functionally within these studio spaces and idealistically as an incubating community--a community from which they can live, work, and continually feel inspired and supported.

For this exhibit, many of the artists included short bios of themselves and their thoughts on the city, and this small gesture reveals a deep and much needed glimpse; hitting home that if and when ArtsHab closes, it's not just a loss of another art studio space, but the dispersal of individual talents and the destruction of an entire community.

Artists: Ashley Andel, Ryan Brown, Jeff Collins, Pieter de Vos, Roger Garcia, Gabriela Rosende, Shane Krepakevich. Beth Pederson, Lynn Malin, Tristan McClelland, Tessa Nunn, Harold Pearse, Tim Rechner, Jenna Stanton, Greg Swain, Will Truchon, Arlene Wasylynchuk and Amanda Woodward.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

NextFest Visual Arts, June 1 - 14, 2007

Image: Kataryzna Vedah, 2007

Featuring over a dozen emerging artists, all from the Edmonton/Calgary region except for Saskatoon's Todd Grondsahl, this year's range puts forward a promising litany of said "emerging" artists. From Josee Aubin Ouellette's "Object Paintings: Paintings as Props," every day objects such as a stretched mattress are turned into art while every day objects such as a cluster of chairs are turned into art. A clever nod, perhaps to her professor Allen Ball, but nonetheless one of the strongest flat art showings in the group.
Other mentionables are Kataryzne Vedah's "hybrid drawings" that at least attempt to push digital media to its aesthetic boundaries with some success; and Janice Wu's installation of over one thousand origami horses sweeps over you with its simplicity, dedication, and bleeding repetition.

Image: Adam Waldon-Blain, 2007

Rounding out the show, Andrea Pinheiro extends beyond artist into curator for a stencil/printmaking-based show; and some duly impressive ceramic and glass works by Katherine Lys and Amy Wowk are in full force representing the next generation of craftspersons in a tradition that remains so strong in the region.
Some of the works and artists have shown similiar works elsewhere, and though not to deny their talent, but for the time being, their pieces so far have communcated most clearly within this "emerging" context than anywhere else. The strongest NextFest showing in years, the only annoyance is not to be able to see all of these works gathered in one space as a group effort rather than as a dispersal of individual shows.

Artists: Josee Aubin Ouellette, Zachary Ayotte, Danielle Booroff, Lindsay Farr, Todd Gronsdahl, Stephanie Jonsson, Katherine Lys, Travis McEwen, Bronwyne Sloley, Jodi Tychkowsky, Katarzyna Vedah, Adam Waldon-Blain, Amy Wowk, and Janice Wu.

The Muddy Waters Picture Show, Muddy Waters, June 1 - 30, 2007

The first show by local woman-about-town Jillian Anderson summed up over five years of work and drew from her travels across Asia and across the city she lives in. The travel photos of places she's seen and places she's been are on average your picture-postcard rendering of exotic locales with pristine composition and brimming with awe and wonder. It is in Anderson's hometown photos where we begin to see the kernels of an artistic voice: angles and shadows, slightly askew, of city locales familiar only to those who walk these city streets, are by and by, pieces that confront this hum-drum city, mainly within this increasingly-bustling downtown, with an eye that genuinely cannot stop exploring the mundane curiosities of life.

Some thoughts on Art Spaces, June 7, 2007

The latest copy of Nina News, the one-page double-sided newsletter published six times a year by the Nina Haggery Centre, reports that the gallery/artist centre is looking to move north to 118 Ave. More space is certainly needed, and the partnership seems ideal; partnering up with the Edmonton Inner City Housing Society through the aide of Council, the proposed revitalization of 118 Avenue through "art" has in one channel become "ArtsAve Place", the proposed art/low income housing studio gallery space where five lots have already been purchased. Though they are onto to the permit stage, and possesion of the lots happen in late summer, the idea is for the Nina Haggerty Centre to own its own art space with multiple floors of below-market priced condos above.

A similiar project was proposed for the existing United Cycle building and the lot behind, where developer Albert Romani has put forward the notion of a space dedicated to "art" and "artist" condos starting in the $200K range, but the "art" space would only exist on a 10 year lease and without zoning restrictions put into place to secure any form of a future. Though the group on 118 Ave, the ArtsAlive core, have taken over the old location of Popular Bakery and has turned it into an "arts" cafe, and seems keen on going forward with revitalizing the neighborhood through art, I only wonder if anyone really intends to keep these spaces dedicated to artists and the intentions of producing art on a long-term basis. The Nina Haggerty is looking to buy their own building, and in doing so securing its future. Other arts organizations, established groups and galleries who would benefit greatly from owning, should be looking to do the same before it all becomes too late (how long can ArtsHab hold? And what is to become of Harcourt in a few years?) Council and the community should be looking at ways to make the purchasing of art space possible rather than these band-aid relief projects where "art" is held as a beacon of growth and revitalization until the area can sustain itself and wants to reserve these art spaces for higher-paying tenants.

True that every city goes through this in growth, the Hausmanization, gentrifcation, whatever you would like to call it, but unlike most of these other cities that have pushed their artists to the fringes and feeds off their development, Edmonton has never privileged the arts within their limits, and with no incentive, no respect, no low income studio/housing, why, or how, would anyone stay?